World Heritage Committee rejects Aust govt request to delist Tas forests

The World Heritage Committee has delivered a strong rebuke to the Australian Government by rejecting its request to delist Tasmania’s new World Heritage forests so they could be logged, environment groups and Aboriginal Tasmanians said today.

The World Heritage Committee’s decision also sends a clear message to the Tasmanian state government, which wants to log other iconic forests, such as the Blue Tier, Tarkine, Bruny Island, Tasman, Reedy Marsh and the North-East Highlands.

“Tasmania’s forests are some of the most spectacular on Earth, home to the tallest flowering trees on the planet, centuries-old trees almost 100 metres high, ancient rock art and endangered animal species including the internationally renowned Tasmanian Devil,” said Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Jess Abrahams. 

Speaking from the World Heritage Committee’s 38th General Assembly in Doha, Wilderness Society Tasmania Campaign Manager Vica Bayley said: “The Australian Government must now accept the World Heritage Committee’s decision and get on with the job of protecting our spectacular forests and engage with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to fund and rigorously complete the requested cultural heritage assessments.

“Rolling back protection of forests is not only environmental vandalism, but is also threatening Tasmania’s timber industry just as it’s trying to stabilise after decades of conflict and its recent collapse.

“The Tasmanian Government still wants to roll back protections and log other iconic forests, such as the Blue Tier, Tarkine, Bruny Island, Tasman, Reedy Marsh and the North-East Highlands. These forests were protected under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, the landmark peace deal struck between conservationists, the timber industry and workers that delivered certainty for the timber industry and ended decades of conflict.”

Also in Doha, Environment Tasmania spokesperson Dr Phill Pullinger said: “The World Heritage Committee’s decision is a great relief for the wild forests of the Great Western Tiers, Weld Valley, Butlers Gorge and the Upper Florentine Valley, but much of Tasmania’s natural heritage remains at risk, with the Tasmanian Government aiming to turn vast areas of protected forest into logging zones.

“The World Heritage Committee’s decision sends a clear message that the international community holds Tasmania’s forests in the highest regard, and it is a message we hope the Tasmanian government listens to by delivering the remaining 400,000 hectares of forest reserves agreed under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.”

Tasmanian Aboriginal community representatives, who partnered with environment groups in Doha to oppose the Abbott Government proposal, shared celebrations of the outcome and the clear call on the Federal Government to work with them to study and document the Aboriginal heritage values in the World Heritage Area.

“We can return home in celebration and assure our Elders that Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage and culture is important to the world,” said pakana man and Aboriginal community elder Rocky Sainty from Doha. “As custodians, we have felt the weight of responsibility to protect the burial places of our ancestors, some of the oldest rock art in the world and our magnificent forests, from the Australian Government’s irresponsible proposal.”

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Secretary Ruth Langford added: “It is now our job is to ensure that the Australian Government honours the request of the World Heritage Committee to undertake an extensive Cultural Assessment in negotiation with our people.”